What is HTML?

Anyone who manages a website, blog, or other digital interface will have encountered references to HTML. But exactly what is HTML? The acronym stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. HTML is the standard language utilised in the creation of web pages.

Tim Berners-Lee, a physicist at the CERN research institute (The European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland invented HTML. His first version was introduced in 1991 but has since undergone substantial development leading it to now being considered the official web standard. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) subsequently became responsible for HTML specifications, maintenance, and development.

HTML is NOT a programming language. As the name implies, it is a markup language (a computer language) that defines structure.

How HTML Works

HTML documents are files that have the .html or .htm extension. The code enables browsers to read the file and convert the content into a format internet users may view. The code essentially provides the means for structuring a web page and document.

Each page consists a set of building block tags (also referred to as elements) which facilitate the structuring of a web page: sections, paragraphs, headings, etc. When writing the code each element requires placing within defined tags for the system to recognise what is required. For example: <tag>; <tag> syntax; </tag> (the ‘/‘ indicates where the element closes);<p> </p> (indicates opening and closing of paragraph element. The required text is inserted between the two indicators). There are different tags for different elements i.e. text, image, audio, video, etc. Tags do not appear in the content but are what determine how the text will be displayed e.g. italics, bold, heading, etc.

Pros and Cons

As with most things HTML has its strengths and limitations (pros & cons).

Pros
  • Widely recognised and used.
  • Runs naturally in all web browsers.
  • Free.
  • Clean and consistent.
  • Recognised as the official standard.
  • Maintained by W3C.
  • Integrates with other computer languages.
  • Reasonably easy to learn.
Cons
  • Mostly used for static web pages.
  • Inadequate to create dynamic functionality.
  • Each page has to be created separately even if utilising same elements.
  • Some browsers embrace new enhancements slowly.
  • Older browsers do not always display modern tags.

Dynamic Functionality

As indicated above, HTML is insufficient for the purposes of creating fully active web pages from which websites and blogs are constructed. In order to provide the functionality expected from a website or blog it is necessary to utilise programming languages such as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and Javascript. CSS is responsible for such things as: style; background colour; layout; spacing; animation; etc. Javascript adds activity such as: pop-ups; slides; photograph galleries; etc. However, this discourse is not about those and no further detail will be provided here.

Readymade Websites

Bearing in mind this website is principally dedicated to providing lay authors and readers with useful and hopefully helpful information this topic is being considered from their viewpoint.

When establishing a website or blog most laypeople utilise established hosting services, such as WordPress, Blogger, etc which provide readymade, often free, templates. Consequently, the user need not have any intimate, or really any, knowledge of HTML. The host provider will have already set up, behind the scenes, HTML programming that converts any input plain text into the required HTML format.

Though, as stated, there is no need for the user to have any knowledge or experience of HTML, those who have, and who wish to use it, may still opt for entering content with HTML coding. They will simply need to choose the appropriate option. For the rest, the simplicity of just having to enter plain text, images, etc., and allowing the system to deal with the coding is ideal.

Conclusion

It may not be necessary to have knowledge or experience of HTML but, because it is often mentioned, or at least referred to, having a slight insight does no harm and in fact helps dispel any confusion or uncertainty.

HTML is a necessity if information is to be presented in the best format possible. The lay user may therefore be grateful to hosting companies and organisations for dealing with it behind the scenes, thereby negating any requirement for them to input any coding. It was not always so.

If anyone truly wishes to learn HTML, it is apparently easy to do so. Courses may be found on the internet.


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